Campaigners urge locals to vote ‘Yes’ in MNP referendum

Members of the Morpeth North Residents Action Group.
Members of the Morpeth North Residents Action Group.

A group preparing for another campaign against a controversial bid for a large development is urging residents to vote yes in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan (MNP) referendum.

It says that approval of the plan will help prevent further ‘inappropriate’ housing sites from being built.

The Morpeth North Residents Action Group (MNRAG) believes there are already more than enough new residential units with planning permission.

The figure will be well over 2,000 if the next phase of the project at the former St George’s Hospital site is approved as expected.

It was formed in response to Mitford Estate’s proposal for up to 255 homes, a hotel, roadside services, a pub/restaurant and parkland on a greenfield site to the west of Lancaster Park, which was refused by Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee at a meeting in November.

As well as recently submitting an appeal against the decision, Mitford Estate has put forward a similar application which it hopes will address the concerns of the committee and planning officers.

The main difference is that the number of proposed homes in the revised scheme has been reduced to 195.

However, MNRAG remains vehemently opposed, stating that the application ‘is almost exactly the same as the previous one and none of the very significant objections from a large number of people have been addressed at all’.

Of the importance of the MNP, a spokesperson for the group said: “No-one can have failed to see how our once lovely town is being turned into a giant building site by developers with only their profits in mind.

“We have been waiting over a year for the final approval of the MNP, which makes the democratic wishes of ordinary Morpeth people a legal reality.

“We are a group of ordinary local residents and we certainly don’t want to be spending such large amounts of time poring over complex planning applications. However, given the absence of much effective planning control, it was a very necessary evil.

“MNRAG has been trying to fend off one extreme example of this problem. Shepherd Offshore, which owns Mitford Hall and much land adjoining Morpeth, has for some time wanted to build a vast new housing estate and commercial site between Lancaster Park and the Northern Bypass junction with the A1.

“Everyone knows, apart from the applicant, that this development is outside the settlement boundary, will be an eyesore, ruin town centre business and create significant environmental issues and traffic problems, not to mention the huge impact on all local services.

“The job creation claims from the developer are very questionable and there isn’t any need at all for so much extra housing in the town.

“However, Shepherd Offshore stands to make huge profits from transforming sustainable but low value farming land into a ‘built environment’.

“In 2011, the Localism Act was introduced to give more power to local government and local communities to shape their local environment. Unfortunately, it has taken five years to get to the point where this can have any impact.

“These five years have created a complete planning vacuum. Planners have been powerless to stop developers from aggressively tearing up any piece of land as there is huge money to be made by turning scenic, sustainable farmland into building sites.

“Morpeth has seen this happening in a big way due to its high property prices, good schools and transport links (all currently severely stretched).

“Residents have become only too familiar with developers with deep pockets riding roughshod over the wishes of almost all of the local population.

“These firms are totally unconcerned about the impact on the quality of life for existing residents, the attractiveness of the local environment and the viability of town centre commerce.

“Therefore, we are all very concerned that for Morpeth to survive in anything like its present form, the neighbourhood plan must be given overwhelming support in the referendum on February 25.

“Without this, the very hard work and endless consultation with residents – over five years – will have been completely wasted and the developers will have won.

“A majority voting yes means the plan must be the basis for all future planning decisions by Northumberland County Council.

“MNRAG is not against progress and acknowledges the need for more housing in appropriate locations as local populations increase. For this reason, the group has always been delighted to support the MNP.”